Category: Insight

What is the best way to purchase a solar PV system?

The pitfalls of the tendering process

In this article, our managing director Damian Baker will use his years of industry expertise to weigh up the best way of purchasing a solar PV installation for your business. We believe that rather than going through the tendering process, businesses can achieve the best results by working with an experienced installer throughout the consultation period and onto installation.

What is a tender?

Here’s an explanation of the tendering process we found on Executive Compass:

“An invitation to tender document is a written request sent to potential suppliers to ask for information required for the buyer to then evaluate and select a preferred supplier. A tender document is the basis of a tendering process which helps a business select qualified and interested suppliers based on certain contract conditions – broadly this is pricing documentation and quality criteria.”

Completing a tender is like a job application: the potential supplier must provide information against a specification set by the client to prove that they’re capable of delivering the job.
Tendering is commonly used for large construction projects, especially when the client is a large corporation or a public sector institution.

 

Pitfalls of the tendering process

Despite its prevalence, there are several pitfalls of tenders that can lead to the client missing out on the best service and results.

We’ve seen many businesses choosing to proceed with solar PV, without fully knowing what they want at the start. This is of course understandable: unless you’re a renewables expert, you can’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of what’s possible. However, to overcome this knowledge gap, these businesses may turn to a consultant to help them prepare the tender.

The consultant will help their client prepare a criteria or brief for the proposed tender project. Renewables companies (like RenEnergy) that want to win this project must then tender against this brief. The issue is that often, the consultant doesn’t have any hands-on expertise with installing solar. We’ve found many times in tenders that we must work to a brief provided by an individual or firm less experienced than us. This simply doesn’t provide the best results to the client.

Another large pitfall of this process is that there can be significant delays. Engaging a consultant, reviewing the brief, inviting firms to tender, receiving applications, and engaging the successful supplier are all lengthy processes. This means that by the time the supplier is engaged, the specification of the tender may be out of date, with technological advances creating better possible options for the client.

This usually leads to one of two possible outcomes, neither of which are ideal. In some cases, we have found the tendering process inflexible: once the specification of a project has been agreed, the client may be unwilling to adjust, perhaps to due to stakeholder pressures such as grant requirements. Even when the client is willing to adjust the specification, this is not the best outcome. This duplication of work wastes time and money: even if the tender consultant’s advice is useless, they have already been paid by this point.

 

An alternative solution

Rather than negotiating the potential pitfalls of the tender process, we believe a better option is to engage an experienced supplier at the consultation phase.

Word of mouth is a valuable research tool, so we suggest picking three regional firms that come highly recommended by your business contacts that have already embraced solar PV. Provide each of the potential suppliers with a summary of what you want to achieve, along with data on your half-hourly energy usage and structural drawings of your buildings. Let them come back to you with their suggestions of how to proceed, along with a price.

We then recommend arranging separate interviews with each of the firms, so you can talk through their proposals and price. You can learn a lot by hearing the potential suppliers explain why (or why not) they are proposing certain options. If you feel like you need some assistance, now would be the time to engage a consultant to help.

In our experience, choosing this method of engaging solar PV suppliers can save your business between 5-10% of the total cost of doing a tender. You could then use this saving to choose a larger array or higher-spec components (where appropriate), or even to invest elsewhere into your business. You can also feel more confident in your solar PV project, as you can get more of a sense of your supplier’s technical expertise and their passion for the job.

 

Why RenEnergy?

It is very much in RenEnergy’s interest to ensure that the client gets exactly what they need from the system we install. Our reputation depends on providing the best possible outcome for our clients, and we have the expertise to deliver.

We have been in renewables since 2003, and have worked on projects all over the world: from the British Antarctic Survey base, to a mine in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, and to many other trusted organisations throughout East Anglia and beyond. We have completed over 3,000 separate installations, and one of the key things we have seen time and again is how we have brought value to the client by working with them in the consultative phase to decide exactly what they want. Because we have worked across many business sectors, we understand the nuances of how different businesses use energy at different times and in different processes.

At RenEnergy we eat, sleep, and dream about solar panels. Our staff are always up to date on the latest training courses and technical advances, and we have close working relationships with the industry’s best suppliers. This knowledge we have accrued goes into every project we install to deliver the best results for our clients.

Want to find out more about our consulting services? Get in touch.

 

Future Voices: Q&A with Peter Gudde of the Greater South East Energy Hub

Welcome to the third article in RenEnergy’s Future Voices content series. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Peter Gudde. Peter is the Energy Projects Manager at the Greater South East Energy Hub. This government-funded organisation is hosted by the LEPs in the south of England, and works with public sector organisations to fund local energy projects. 

Can you please describe the role of the hub, and explain the work you do?

The Greater South East Energy Hub was established by central government in September 2018 to support the eleven Local Enterprise Partnerships and 146 local authorities across the South East as they deliver local energy projects in line with clean growth and Net Zero carbon ambitions, nationally and locally.

We try to do this in a range of ways depending on the project or the organisations that we are working with.  For example, we may be looking at the feasibility of a renewable energy project, bringing together different organisations to bid for funding to explore innovative ways to achieve domestic energy retrofit, or identifying potential supply routes for decarbonising council waste trucks.

We are able to link up with the four other Energy Hubs across England and are involved in some international research projects through our support role.  So, along with what’s happening in our region, we can access a wide variety of energy-based knowledge and practice to help our clients.

But, with everything we do we are always looking at how clean, local energy projects can be delivered at scale, quicker and easier for the public sector.

 

What is your role at the hub? What does an average day look like?

I am one four Energy Project Managers and I cover Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. I have worked on Energy and Sustainability projects for over 25 years in the East of England, living “on the patch” on the Norfolk-Suffolk Border.

The Energy Hub team is spread across the South East and, like millions of other workers across the country since COVID-19, we have been adapting to new working patterns.  Saying that, we have been home-enabled since we established. A typical day starts early from the desk next door to the kitchen.  But, working on a specific project I will be on-site or with the client in a virtual sense!

Each project manager has a portfolio of energy projects reflecting what is happening in each of the local areas that they cover.  At the moment, I am looking at things ranging from finding solutions for power network issues for new developments, assessing solar and battery opportunities, looking at how we can fast track heat network energy master planning to trying to understand what local energy skills and supply chains will look like under Net Zero commitments.

As well as our project-based support to public sector clients, each of us leads on an energy theme whether that’s a power grid, heat decarbonisation, transport or rural community energy for example.

We also work as a team on certain initiatives across the South East.  We are currently collaborating with the Knowledge Transfer Network, which is part of Innovate UK, to find solutions to three challenges; grid constraints, decarbonising large engines and deep home energy retrofit and supply chains.

The subject area and geography of the South East is huge so there is always something new and challenging to work on.

 

Could you tell me about any of the clean energy projects funded by the hub?

We are currently supporting two projects with funding.  One is a new large mixed development in Essex which already incorporates a heat network but has a power connection problem. We are part-funding feasibility studies to see if a microgrid is feasible.

We have separately funded a study to develop a zero-carbon masterplan for a new commercial development site in Suffolk.  These sites share a lot of characteristics with other sites across the South East. So, we hope to be able to use some of the learning to benefit other local authorities and their stakeholders.

 

What (if any) differences are there in the ways that urban or rural communities may benefit from renewable energies?

Each place is different.  Although the solutions may already be available, they will need to be tailored to local conditions

Take one technology, solar PV for example.  Towns are generally more likely to have more opportunities for roof-mounted installations compared to villages which may be able to access land, through the parish or a supportive landowner.  If its heat, the view around heat pumps as the primary decarbonising technology may play out differently in an urban compared to a rural community with considerations around access to a power network that can cope with additional load, the affordability of the technology, and its effectiveness in housing estates compared to individual dwellings in a village.

One thing that will be the biggest challenge, irrespective of location, will be the individual householder’s appetite and ability to install renewable technology, whether that’s solar or heating.

 

 

What do you think the future of energy in East Anglia looks like?

We have both great opportunities and as well as big challenges ahead in East Anglia.  We lead the way in large-scale renewable energy generation as we are at the centre of the largest global market for offshore wind. At the other end of the spectrum, we have lots of local community energy opportunities with the potential for local people to participate given the right conditions.  Our support through the Rural Communities Energy Fund is one way communities can look to a new energy future.

But we have a massive set of tasks ahead of us to make the progress that’s needed for a Zero Carbon East Anglia, whatever that looks like.  Some residents, communities, and local businesses could be left behind if we don’t find energy solutions that benefit everyone.  We cannot afford that to happen.

 

What are some achievable steps that businesses can take to use energy more efficiently and greenly?

Firstly, for a business that is struggling to keep trading at the moment thinking about energy is probably the last thing on their mind.  But, knowing how much and where energy is used in your business is a really important starting point to valuing both any energy investment savings and how it can improve the bottom line.

Doing the energy-efficiency improvements like installing LED lighting or insulating the building as a first step, maybe with a bit of financial support if available, will make investing in renewable power or heat easier as well as cheaper.

Schemes like BEE Anglia are there for businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk to make it really easy to get the information they need to start making energy savings from Day 1.

It’s also worth doing this ahead of the competition as it could be what your supply chain wants to see. Corporate and retail customers are becoming increasingly more discerning about the credentials of their suppliers.  Even if trading conditions are hard at the moment the long-term trend is to decarbonise and not just to meet environmental obligations; it will be good for sales.

Once you can see the way ahead and someone can make it easy for you, taking the first steps to become a zero-carbon business should become easier.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa.

Weighing up the viability of hydrogen fuel

At the time of writing this article, wildfires are devastating the east coast of America, and the world remains in a state of standstill due to the virus pandemic. The effects of climate change are no longer a distant threat: we are already living through them.

It’s clear to most people that our blase attitude to fossil fuels must change. We need to really start getting behind the mainstream adoption of renewables.

While solar PV is our one true love, we’re all for embracing a wide range of renewable technologies. Especially in instances where the use of solar isn’t quite right.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel: a renewable option that’s becoming increasingly popular. This powerful fuel is non-polluting and could deliver power on an industrial scale, given the right infrastructure.

 

What is it, and how does it work?

Like electricity, hydrogen is an ‘energy carrier’: it does not produce its own energy, but it carries energy produced by another system.

Usually, hydrogen is produced by electrolysis (splitting hydrogen from water), or thermal processing of natural gas. This informative blog post explains other ways hydrogen may be obtained.

Here are the two most important things you need to know about hydrogen fuel:

  1. It’s a clean fuel: when consumed, the only byproduct is clean water. That means no pollution and no carbon emissions.
  2. Obtaining hydrogen is difficult, and requires a lot of energy. Hydrogen is the most common element in our atmosphere, but it never exists naturally in its pure form.

When the hydrogen has been obtained, it may be used in a similar way to natural gas. Here’s what the world’s favourite encyclopedia  has to say:

“[Hydrogen] can be delivered to fuel cells to generate electricity and heat, used in a combined cycle gas turbine to produce larger quantities of centrally produced electricity or burned to run a combustion engine; all methods producing no carbon or methane emissions”.

We highly recommend this video about hydrogen fuel; it explains it much better than we ever could!

 

What are the green credentials of hydrogen?

Overall, hydrogen is pretty green, but it’s not a straightforward answer.

As we mentioned above, producing hydrogen is both difficult and energy-intensive. For it to be considered a renewable fuel source, it must be produced using renewable electricity. This is known as ‘green hydrogen’.

The slightly-less-green version is called ‘blue hydrogen’. This is hydrogen production where the associated carbon emissions have been captured, offset, or reused. Unfortunately, around 95% of the world’s hydrogen is ‘grey hydrogen’, produced using fossil fuels (usually natural gas).

While green hydrogen seems like the clear winner, it’s not that simple. This is also the most expensive method of producing hydrogen. This lack of affordability means we can’t embrace widespread hydrogen fuelling just yet. However, an EU-funded project, CHANNEL, is currently exploring how we can produce green hydrogen in a cost-effective way.

 

What are the pros and cons of hydrogen fuelling?

Pros

  • No harmful emissions, and has the potential to be completely renewable
  • Infinite supply: hydrogen is the most common element in our world
  • Capable of delivering large amounts of power
  • Suitable for use in heavy plant or machinery, where other renewable technologies may not be appropriate

 

Cons

  • Laborious process to obtain the hydrogen
  • Energy-intensive
  • Expensive
  • Most current options are not green

 

Where is hydrogen fuel being used?

Although not currently a mainstream renewable option, hydrogen is already being applied in some cases.

Germany, in particular, is already pushing ahead with its first national hydrogen strategy. As part of its COVID economic recovery plans, the German government is investing €9 million in repurposing old gas pipelines to create a hydrogen grid.

In the UK, we are proceeding a little more cautiously, but progress is still happening. Keele University is trialling the use of a natural gas and 20% hydrogen blend. This fuel is being used in the gas hobs at the university canteen. This small step reduced the amount of C02 produced through cooking and heating the university, without making significant infrastructure changes.

Interest in hydrogen fuelling is also being explored closer home. Hydrogen East is a “bringing together interested parties and key stakeholders on hydrogen specifically in the East of England.” East Anglia is home to several large offshore wind farms. Hydrogen East proposes that any surplus energy may be deployed for hydrogen fuelling in the region.

Here’s what Johnathan Reynolds, a founding member of Hydrogen East (and also Managing Director of energy group Opergy), said about the initiative:

“Today, East Anglia is already a rich and diverse ‘energy powerhouse’, and with almost all forms of power generation either on or immediately off its coastline. We have a wide range of innovative businesses pushing the boundaries of research and demonstration projects in hydrogen, energy storage, capturing, storing and using CO2, and novel clean energy solutions.

“Working in partnership with a wide range of partners, Hydrogen East will identify options, map and promote them and deliver a viable route map that sees East Anglia as a leading ‘hydrogen region’. It offers a major opportunity to integrate and transform our clean energy sectors across gas, renewables and nuclear, become a regional leader and create thousands of jobs in the long term.”

We’re certainly very interested in the work of Hydrogen East, and will be keeping our eyes peeled for future developments.

 

While hydrogen fuelling is not a ‘silver bullet’ for fighting climate change, this innovative technology certainly has a role to play.

Want to keep up to date with the latest renewables news? Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. (links)

What are the 4Ds of energy, and why do they matter?

Although the energy sector is steadily innovating, the time for real disruption is long overdue.

If we are to have any kind of chance of tackling climate change, reducing the UK’s carbon output to net-zero by 2050 is non-negotiable. To do this, the energy sector simply cannot remain as it is.

The popularity of renewable energy is soaring, but this alone isn’t enough. We need to make serious changes to the way we consume, and think about, energy. It is not a magical, endless, substance that appears at our homes and businesses ready for use. Unless we overhaul our relationship with energy, we continue to harm our already-ailing planet.

When we talk about the disruption of the energy sector, there are several key factors leading this shift:

  • Decarbonisation
  • Decentralisation
  • Digitalisation
  • Democratisation

These ‘four Ds’ of energy are driving the disruption of the energy sector. If you’re a regular reader of the RenEnergy blog, you may have spotted Nigel Cornwall mention them in his Future Voices Q&A.

Really, these four Ds are simply four ways in which the energy sector must change, including how we buy energy, who we buy it from, and how we use it. Below, we’ll explain the terms in more detail, plus why they matter…

 

Decarbonisation

Of all the four Ds, this is perhaps the most important.

Reducing society’s greenhouse gas emissions (of which carbon is the biggest culprit) to net zero is our only real strategy for slowing climate change. At this stage, we can’t even stop or reverse global warming: only slow it. The quicker we can structurally decarbonise our energy, the better.

Choosing renewable energy is a good first step when it comes to decarbonising the energy sector. However, we can’t stop there. We must also embrace associated technologies such as battery storage and electric vehicles and take steps to remove or offset the inherent carbon present in our infrastructure.

Overall, we’re moving in the right direction. Electric vehicle ownership and solar PV usage are up, and the price of solar PV is becoming more affordable. But, these moves should not be considered a ‘sticking plaster’ for climate change. Our current infrastructures are heavy with embedded carbon, requiring deep, disruptive change. Check out our Future voices Q&A with Dr Nigel Hargreaves, where he discusses the systems-based change needed in the energy industry.

Decentralisation

The decentralisation of energy refers to a move away from one large national grid. Instead, energy is generated closer to where it is used. This could take the form of autonomous local microgrids, or clean local powerplants, such as solar farms.

Decentralising a region’s energy supply poses many benefits. According to a report in Raconteur, deploying local solar plants, small wind farms, battery storage and combined heat-and-power plants, makes the energy market more competitive, reducing prices for the consumer.

Not only are these decentralised renewable systems better for the environment, they tend to be more reliable, too. Any localised issues stay local, so faults may be repaired more quickly, and a reliable energy supply maintained.

 

 

Digitalisation

As we’ve all heard, knowledge is power. The digitalisation of the energy sector involves the increased use of technology, data, and measurements to better manage our energy. Basically, it means using all the information at our disposal to make sure we’re being as energy efficient as possible.

The increased use of technology allows us to measure energy flows, keeping systems running smoothly, and allows customers to only procure the energy they need, so nothing is wasted.

After all, how can you know if your climate change initiatives are working if you’re not measuring how much energy you’re using, or carbon you’re saving?

 

Democratisation

Also know as deregulation, democratisation is about making the energy industry fairer for consumers.

This article on Medium explains the democratisation of energy perfectly:

“Historically, utilities emerged as state-regulated monopolies, and they still are in some countries. In a regulated energy market, the government has control over electricity prices, which leaves little room for competition and little choice for customers. However, with the global energy demand increasing, the new capital investments required exceeded the capacities of governments. Unable to create new sources of funding, the governments of many countries started to turn to the private sector and therefore deregulate their energy markets.”

Fortunately, the UK energy market is already largely democratic, with plenty of consumer choice and healthy market competition. However, there is always room for improvement.

As you can see, there is plenty of overlap between the concepts of the fours Ds. Although decarbonisation is the key step in the fight against climate change, factors such as digitalisation, decentralisation and democratisation will help make it possible.

In our fight to manage climate change, switching to renewable energy alone isn’t enough. We need complete disruption of the energy systems as we know them.

 

What do you think about the four Ds of energy? Let us know on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

What will it take to create a green transport revolution?

By current estimates, transport is responsible for at least 25% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. To meet the required climate change targets, we must reduce these emissions by 95% by 2050.

It’s undeniable that electric vehicles have a big role to play in the greening of the transport sector. This new generation of cars is non-polluting and emissions-free, and slowly becoming more affordable, to boot. At the time of writing, EVs have a 4.7% market share, with the coronavirus lockdown contributing to a spike in interest. However, arriving here has not been an easy ride. Much education has been (and is still) required to alleviate concerns about ‘range anxiety’. The cause has not been helped by mouthpieces in the gas automotive industry claiming that EVs are worse for the environment because they are powered by ‘dirty electricity’. Fortunately, these claims have since been proven untrue.

Swapping to electric vehicles is not a silver bullet that will solve all the problems with the transport industry. While EVs are non-polluting, they can still be powered using electricity from coal-burning or nuclear sources. This, obviously, is no good. Plus, there isn’t a surplus of renewable energy sitting around to power EVs: it’s already being used to power our homes and businesses.

As much as we’d love to see more EVs on the roads, the UK’s current energy systems are not set up to handle such a sudden influx. If we want to make sure that the future of transport is truly green, we need to rethink both our energy infrastructure and our attitudes towards vehicle ownership altogether.

 

Local transport needs local energy

According to the Energy Saving Trust, by 2030 there could be 8-11 million hybrid or electric cars on the UK’s roads, and over 25 million hybrid or electric cars by 2040. However, the UK energy system needs to adapt before that can happen.

While the national grid has more than enough energy to charge all these vehicles, we still need more renewable energy if we want our transport systems to be truly zero-carbon. Additionally, the UK grid structure couldn’t handle all these electric vehicles being charged at once. A shift towards widescale EV adoption may need to be paired with a shift towards decentralised energy systems. This may take the form of localised renewable power stations or even mini local grids. Either way, such decentralised options are more reliable and often more cost-effective.

 

Changing attitudes to vehicle ownership

No matter which way you cut it, electric vehicles are more expensive and specialised than your standard car. For that reason, we think it’s unlikely that everyone will own an EV. Many people simply don’t have the offroad space required to charge their vehicle, and as yet the grid can’t handle the additional charging load. We really need to become more aware of our carbon footprints in order to tackle climate change. As that happens, it’s likely people will consider whether or not they actually need to own their own car.

As EVs become the norm, we think car share schemes will become more popular. Zipcar already provides 325 electric cars for rental around London. We think bikes and scooters (both electric and manual) will increase in popularity, too. While this is great for reducing the carbon footprint of the transport sector, our roads aren’t set up to handle an influx of cyclists and scooter users. If we expect people to commute without their cars, perhaps we need more cycle paths to ensure they can do it safely. We need to rethink and adapt if the transport revolution is to be a green one. Changing attitudes and education is essential to this movement.

 

Charging straight from the sun

While the majority of EV charging will happen at homes overnight, that won’t always be possible. Public charge facilities must become more prevalent to provide rapid charging mid-journey. In fact, Gridserve is planning a state-of-the-art EV charging forecourt at Broadlands Business Park (just down the road from RenEnergy).

As these increase, we hope to see more EV charge systems that incorporate solar PV, perhaps even a solar carport? Pairing EV charge facilities with custom-installed solar ensures that all EVs are fully clean (not powered by coal or nuclear electricity).

 

More than EVs

While a wave of electric vehicles is at the heart of the green transport revolution, it is not the only potential solution. EVs make great cars and light commercial vehicles but are not suitable for machinery or heavy transit. Here, hydrogen power may be used as a clean fuelling alternative.

Since most hydrogen fuelling systems repurpose existing (and unused) gas pipelines, we already have a head start on implementing the infrastructure. The only byproduct is clean water, but producing hydrogen is very energy-intensive and requires a lot of renewable energy in order to happen cleanly. Even when we’re not placing all our bets on electric vehicles, the green transport revolution needs renewable energy at its core.

As you can see, the green transport revolution is more complicated than just getting more electric vehicles on our roads. We need to explore other options, too, and update our roads and energy systems to make it happen. Unfortunately, we don’t have much promising news yet. The government’s economic recovery strategy prioritises the creation of roads but gives no mention to cycle paths, EV charging, or low carbon infrastructure. We only hope that the green transport revolution doesn’t come too late, if at all.

Future Voices: Q&A with Nigel Cornwall

Welcome to the third article in RenEnergy’s Future Voices content series. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Nigel Cornwall. Nigel founded leading energy consultancy firm, Cornwall Insight. He now runs community energy consultancy, New Anglia Energy, and contributes actively to the conversation on shaking up energy systems in East Anglia.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’ve worked in the energy sector for the past 35 years. I started life as a civil servant, working on energy service reforms. I spent the last 20 years growing my own business, Cornwall Insight. I built this energy consultancy from just me to a team of 80 people based in Norwich, Melbourne, and Dublin.

I’ve taken a step back from that over the last three to four years, and have chosen to focus on decentralising and decarbonising regional energy systems. Most of this work is conducted through New Anglia Energy: a community energy consultancy, supporting local energy markets in Norfolk and Suffolk.

I’m also working on some interesting projects embracing hydrogen energy infrastructure in our region. It’s a pleasure to get back to focusing on things that I enjoy, such as changing programs and pushing the change agenda, rather than the day-to-day of running a business.

 

How did you end up where you are now?

I studied Modern History at Oxford University, intending to become an archivist afterwards. I didn’t plan to join the civil service, but it turned out to be a very fortunate move. As a junior civil servant in 1982, I was lucky to receive lots of motivation and autonomy from my managers. I immediately got involved in some interesting policy-centred projects. My first piece of legislation was the Energy Act 1983, which was the first attempt to allow open access to the electricity market.

After many years in the civil service, I moved into the private sector. While working as a regulatory manager with the National Grid, I was seconded overseas. I spent five years working actively on energy market reform in New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

In 1998 I returned to England and started working as an independent energy consultant, then launching my own company. Cornwall Insight is considered a great regional success story, but I’m not originally from this part of the country. A chance holiday on the Blickling Estate in 2000 led me to resettle here.

 

Can you tell us more about New Anglia Energy?

I founded New Anglia Energy while I was still running things at Cornwall Insight. I officially left the board earlier this year, but have been stepping back for the last three years. While decentralised and decarbonised energy are interests of mine, my work through New Anglia Energy also helped Cornwall Insight diversify into the low carbon agenda.

New Anglia Energy explores energy market innovation in East Anglia, working closely with the LEP and local authorities. Our work is concerned with transforming the energy market through the use of the four Ds:

Decentralisation: localised energy ‘grids’ are more efficient than centralised ones, often with more competitive prices and less threat of downtime.
Digitisation: applying technology such as cloud computing and blockchain to manage energy systems more effectively.
Democratisation: making clean and affordable energy available for all.
Decarbonisation: If we are to reach net-zero carbon, all energy must be net-zero, too.

I am a big advocate of these four principles, and New Anglia Energy is my vehicle for such market transformation.

However, this is not my only project. Over the last six months, I have become involved in Hydrogen East: a new body exploring the potential of hydrogen energy in East Anglia. When produced using renewable energy, hydrogen is a clean fuelling option for larger vehicles (transit, public transportation, etc). Blue hydrogen produced in combination with carbon capture and storage also has an important transitional role to play. Since East Anglia is one of the world’s largest producers of offshore wind energy, Hydrogen East proposes that surplus energy produced in the North Sea be used to supply local markets.

Despite our recent launch, Hydrogen East is already attracting a lot of attention. So far we are collaborating with oil and gas stakeholders at Bacton and EDF at Sizewell to create local low carbon infrastructure, and have also launched our Hydrogen Highways initiative: a project to create hydrogen fuelling points running from east to west of the region.

 

Is there anything particularly interesting going on in East Anglia when it comes to fighting climate change?

Yes, plenty. As well as groups such as Hydrogen East and New Anglia Energy, our region is home to world-leading scientists and research into climate change.

While East Anglia has plenty of green initiatives, some of these pushes are perhaps a little isolated. If you look at the interactive map of community energy projects on Community Energy England, you’ll see that our region is very poorly represented.

I have made it one of my personal objectives to join up energy and climate change initiatives in the region. While there’s plenty of hard work happening here, these organisations and groups aren’t working together and I think we need a systems-based approach to negotiate that. We also need to share access to skills and infrastructure to help projects scale up.

 

What are some achievable steps that businesses or organisations can take to operate more sustainably?

The fight against global warming requires change at both an individual and systemic level. Reducing our carbon emissions by 80% was already very hard, but instigating the behavioural changes needed to achieve net-zero by 2050 is a profound challenge. Everyone can start by being more aware of their own carbon footprint. I think those within the energy sector, especially, could be accused of not practising what they preach.

I have personally started to pay much more attention to my carbon footprint. As we speak, it’s a Friday afternoon, it’s windy, and the sun is shining. Therefore, I have set my EV charger and washing machine to start at times when there will be an abundance of energy and low demand. By being more organised, I can achieve the things I need to do anyway while saving a few quid and supporting the system.

 

What do you think is the single most important change that must be made for the world to manage the climate crisis?

We need a fundamental knowledge shift and resetting of expectations if we are to make any kind of climate recovery work.

Public awareness is increasing. Relative to where we were two years ago, most people see that extreme weather events across the world are linked, and recognise that the climate is already changing. However, people who keep abreast of climate change news can see that the planet is already changing much faster and greater than scientists predicted.

I am a great watcher of policy, and I engage well with policy-makers, but I feel that global political policy has not yet grasped the severity of the climate crisis. And until it does, any progress made will be fraught. We need more institutionalised solutions, with problem-solving powers devolved among local authorities and delivery bodies.

At the moment, there seems to be a lot of political ‘fudging’. Things like carbon budgets aren’t comprehensive enough, so we’re not able to accurately measure progress, and policy is inconsistent. At the start of lockdown, one of the few good news stories was the improvement in air quality. And yet the government’s strategy for building back better includes the creation of more roads. We seem to have a disconnect here.

In your opinion, are local authorities doing enough to respond to the climate crisis?

Some are, some aren’t. I know Norwich is very proud of its award-winning green initiative, but we can still do more. Progress is much slower than it needs to be. Local authorities are notoriously poorly-funded, so, despite their good intentions, they are often unable to deliver due to a lack of resources.

Do you think a top-down approach or grassroots impetus is more important in the fight against climate change?

Both are important. In an ideal world, we’d have a lot more leadership on climate change, supported by the right policy. However, changing policy takes time and is unfortunately weighed down by corporate interests. The scale of the challenge necessitates that everyone is aware of the changing world around them and does their bit to tackle the problem.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa.

 

Are commercial solar panels worth it?

solar panel farm with wind turbine

Everything you need to know about commercial solar PV

Although we pride ourselves on providing a range of renewable technologies, commercial solar panels remain our flagship offering.

But what exactly is it? And are commercial solar panels worth it? This comprehensive online guide will answer everything you need to know before embracing commercial solar panels for your business. By providing you with as much information as possible, we hope you’ll feel empowered to make an informed decision about whether solar PV is right for your company.

Here’s what you’ll find out in this article…

What are commercial solar panels? 
How do commercial solar panels work? 
Finance options for commercial solar panels
Why use commercial solar panels?
Do commercial solar panels require maintenance?
Are there any negatives to commercial solar panels?
Are commercial solar panels worth it?

What are commercial solar panels?

Commercial solar panels (or commercial solar PV) are simply solar panels that are used by a business or organisation. There’s no such thing as ‘industrial-grade solar’. Of course, businesses are likely to have much larger solar arrays than domestic customers.

Commercial solar panels can benefit businesses of any sector. If you use a large amount of energy to run your business, why not make it green? However, commercial solar PV may be especially beneficial to companies in the following sectors due to their large energy requirements:

  • Agriculture
  • Manufacture
  • Food and drink
  • Transport
  • Hospitality
  • Leisure

 

How does a commercial solar array work?

All solar panels work the same, whether they’re used commercially or not.

Solar panels are comprised of wafers of silicon placed between layers of glass, metal, and an anti-glare coating. When sunlight shines on the solar cells, electrons in the silicon are agitated. This agitation grows into movement, creating an electrical current. This flows through an inverter, changing it to alternating current (we typically use AC energy in our homes and businesses because it’s safer).

Commercial solar PV may be paired with battery storage. Without a battery, solar energy must be used in real-time, when the sun is shining. Battery storage allows you to save that energy for later (ie nighttime). Even with a battery, your business won’t be off-grid. Your business will likely use more energy than the solar alone can provide, so will still require grid energy for the excess.

Commercial solar panels also work well if your employees or fleet use electric vehicles. Most EV chargers can be programmed to use solar energy before drawing any power from the grid. This allows your business to offer EV charge facilities, without increasing your energy bill.

 

Finance options for commercial solar panels

Buying and installing your own solar panels (CapEx) is always the most cost-effective option. However, this is not possible for all businesses. Purchasing your own solar requires an upfront investment, which not all budgets allow.

Businesses that want to get their energy from solar without the upfront investment may benefit from a power purchase agreement (PPA).

A PPA allows businesses to gain onsite solar, without investing in the installation themselves. Under a PPA, you don’t own the solar panels. They are owned by the installer, who rents your roof space for a nominal fee. Your business then purchases its energy from the installer, at lower than the market rate.

You can read our full guide to PPAs here.

 

Why use solar PV for businesses?

Businesses that use a lot of energy, but only during daylight hours, are the ideal candidate for commercial solar PV. This is because your energy load profile matches the sunlight hours, so you can use the energy in real-time without wasting any. Domestic homes, on the other hand, use more energy in the early mornings and evenings, before the sun is shining. Most commercial buildings also benefit from a large, flat roof: the ideal location for solar.

Switching to solar PV will instantly cut your business’s energy bill. The more energy your business uses, the more you can save with solar panels. Reducing your energy spend increases your bottom line, improving the profitability of your business. This frees up extra capital to invest elsewhere in your business. You are also safeguarding your business from increased overheads in the future, as energy costs will consistently rise.

Of course, solar panels also provide significant green benefits to your business. Reducing your company’s carbon footprint helps fulfil your corporate environmental responsibility. Not only is it the right thing to do, but your customers and stakeholders will appreciate it, too. A comprehensive new study by Neilsen found that consumers prefer brands with green credentials.

 

Does commercial solar require maintenance?

A little. Overall, solar is a very stable investment: the sun shines a similar amount every year, so you should generate a consistent amount of solar energy.

All reputable installers will provide a complete monitoring system with commercial solar PV. If you notice that your generation levels are not as they should be, you could benefit from a little operations and maintenance service. Solar panels are very safe, with long term warranties. However, occasional faults do happen.

Dirt and grime on the surface on a panel can also affect its performance. If light can’t reach the silicon cell within, the panel cannot generate solar energy. Since the UK receives a high amount of rainfall, most solar panels don’t need cleaning regularly. However, if your business’s operations are particularly ‘messy’ (think agriculture, livestock, or certain manufacture) your panels may need annual cleaning.

Check out our guide to solar panel cleaning and servicing for more information.

 

Are there any negatives?

While solar will save you money overall, you need the cash flow available upfront to invest. Of course, you can negate this with a PPA, but these provide smaller financial savings.

As we discussed above, solar panels do require a little maintenance. If you’re a CapEx customer, you’ll have to arrange (and pay for) this yourself. PPA customers, on the other hand,  typically have cleaning and maintenance included in their contract with the installer.

And finally, installing CapEx solar can create a small increase in business rates. In these cases, solar is considered an asset that makes the property more valuable. However, this doesn’t apply to PPA solar customers: the solar PV is owned and managed by a separate entity, so the property owner isn’t liable.

 

Are commercial solar panels worth it?

Yes! However, you may need to weigh up the appropriateness of solar PV for your company, since some businesses are better candidates for solar than others. Remember that the more energy you use, the more you will save. And as energy prices inflate, this saving will only increase. Factors such as the pitch of your roof and orientation of your building also affect the generating potential of solar PV on your site.

While this article focuses more on the financial benefits of solar, let’s not forget the environmental ones. Without drastic intervention, our planet will continue to warm, and human life will alter irreparably. Any step we can take to cut our carbon footprint is a step towards safeguarding our planet for future generations. They may seem small, but together these steps add up.

Want to find out more?

Get in touch with a member of our dedicated sales team.

Future Voices: Q&A with Leon Davies of Goodery

Photo of leon davies featuring the Goodery logo

Welcome to the second instalment of RenEnergy’s Future Voices content series. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Leon Davies. Leon previously ran Norwich-based zero-carbon taxi firm, Zero Taxis. He now works as a consultant on green initiatives.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Welsh by birth but have lived in Norfolk for the last twenty years. After leaving school at 16, I enjoyed a great military career for fifteen years. I eventually left the military to start a family and started working offshore. Here I gained specialist knowledge of oil and gas, but also renewable energies such as solar and wind.

Two years ago, as I was travelling in Holland, I got in an electric taxi at Schiphol Airport. It really inspired me, and I decided to see if I could do something similar in Norwich. With the support of Broadlands Council, I launched Zero Taxis.

Unlike other ‘green’ taxi firms, Zero Taxis didn’t just stop at electric vehicles. We used solar power and battery storage to charge the taxis overnight. You can’t get any cleaner than going from sun to solar, to battery, to car! The business was a great success, achieving rapid growth and multiple business award wins. However, I was still working offshore at the time and couldn’t keep up with the firm’s growth. So, last year Zero Taxis was acquired by one of Norwich’s largest taxi firms, ABC Taxis.

I still work as an electric vehicle consultant and am supporting ABC Taxis on their mission to create a fully EV fleet by 2025.

When Covid-19 happened, I also started work on a new venture. I was approached by a group of East Anglian entrepreneurs to create an organic food delivery solution for people shielding from coronavirus. I thought it sounded interesting, so I agreed to manage the logistics for Goodery. Over the last few months, this initiative has really taken off. We now deliver 100% organic groceries to over 400 local customers.

As well as being an entrepreneur, I’m also a family man. I have two sons, and I love rugby, Guinness, and doing what I can for the planet.

 

Can you tell us more about Goodery?

We created Goodery to provide those who were shielding from coronavirus with organic food, delivered straight to their doorstep.

Everything we sell is 100% organic, including fruit and vegetables, baked goods, coffee, eggs, and soap. That means absolutely no pesticides or chemicals. We believe that choosing organic produce is a vital way to protect the health of our planet. The quality of the world’s soil is failing due to intensive farming and pesticide use. Some scientists predict that the UK has just 100 fruitful harvests left. By choosing organic, we can all do our own bit to help maintain a plentiful food supply for many years to come.

Goodery’s operations are also 100% net zero emissions. Where possible, we use electric vehicles for transit and delivery. We offset any emissions we do create by planting trees. We’re also zero waste: we don’t use plastic, only reusable containers that our customers return to us when finished.

We know that cost is one of the biggest obstacles stopping customers from buying organic produce. As we refine our operations, we’re able to lower our prices weekly to support our customers and encourage more people to shop organic. Since we purchase our stock directly from organic farms, our farmers receive a greater profit share too. We source produce as locally as we can and currently work with organic farmers in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, and Hertfordshire. Twelve weeks in, we have already acquired Arthur’s Organics: a Norwich-based veg box delivery service launched in 2002. We also support local farmers that want to switch back organic farming methods.

Since launching, the reception for Goodery has been amazing and we’ve received some amazing reviews. We have already outgrown our premises and moved to a larger industrial unit. Our goal now is to reach 2,000 customers in a year.

 

What are some achievable steps that businesses or organisations can take to operate more sustainably?

Firstly, if your business owns its own roof, why wouldn’t you put solar there? In my opinion, it’s a no-brainer. It allows businesses to save money on their energy bill and do their bit for the environment. Securing your own method of on-site energy generation also allows you to future proof your business.

For those that can afford it, swapping to EVs can make a huge impact to your business’s carbon footprint. In just two years, Zero Taxis prevented over 100 tonnes of C02 from entering the atmosphere.

Other than cost, I know that one of the greatest obstacles to EV adoption is range anxiety. As an EV consultant, I work with a lot of big businesses that are greening their fleet with EV. I provide training on EV charging, and support to alleviate range anxiety. After trying an EV and receiving just a little more education, most businesses find that the typical EV range is suitable for their needs.

And finally, I advise all companies to check out what government grants and tax reliefs are available for implementing green measures in your business.

 

What sort of green future would you like to see for East Anglia?

I believe that if the council got behind it, Norwich could be a frontrunner for EVs. Our city is home to a lot of forward-thinking people who can make a change, but the council needs to open the door.

Although Norwich is a green city overall, regions such as Oxfordshire and Dundee put us to shame. These councils have really bought into EV technology, and so have set up the required networks. Our local authority, on the other hand, can be a little slow to embrace change. Norwich, especially the Prince of Wales Road area, is very polluting. If you’d like to make a difference, start by writing to your MP and asking why we have 15-year-old buses on our roads. The technology is available for EV or at least hybrid buses, now we need the infrastructure.

Personally, I’d like to see more people take small steps to action positive change for the planet. We could all afford to live the way we did 40-50 years ago: walking more, eating local and organic produce, and taking holidays within the UK. If everyone did what they were comfortable with, together we could create a sizable and sustainable impact for the planet.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa

How solar PV can increase the profitability of your business

Increasing profits is always a priority for businesses, but it may feel like the coronavirus pandemic is causing business growth to falter. Although the economy has recovered fractionally in recent weeks, it’s still all a little up in the air. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, selling more simply may not be possible right now.

Of course, increasing sales isn’t the only way to increase profits. This article will explore how tightening up your overheads with an investment in solar PV can increase the profitability of your business. Make your finances work smarter, not harder: just because your top line can’t grow doesn’t mean your bottom line can’t.

 

Solar PV: a small tweak to tighten the purse strings

Since we’ll be using these financial terms a lot, let’s start with a quick recap. Top line refers to a company’s revenue, or how efficient it is at selling. Its bottom line, on the other hand, represents how efficiently a business manages its operating costs. As explained by Investopedia, the top line “does not take into consideration operating efficiencies which could have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.”

Ideally, a business’s top and bottom line grow in tandem to generate a profit. But, if you can’t grow the top line, improving one’s bottom line is another way to increase profit. Introducing on-site renewable energy generation, such as on-site solar PV, is a small tweak that can improve a business’s bottom line, and therefore its profitability. Increasing one’s top line typically takes a lot more effort.

For example, say your business has a profit margin of 20%. This means that you need to sell £5 worth of products or services to generate a £1 profit. However, gaining a £1 efficiency on one’s bottom line immediately equates to £1 in profit.

Simply put, it’s easier to increase one’s bottom line than the top line. However, in our experience, many businesses neglect or forget this, especially among smaller companies. We’ve seen many businesses leaders run themselves ragged trying to increase their revenue. This approach simply isn’t sustainable, and not necessarily effective. An increase in sales may not always equate to an increase in profitability since selling more usually comes with the associated costs of manufacturing or delivering more services.

 

Energy efficiency and the bottom line

As we mentioned above, the top line does not consider inefficiencies that could be hindering business growth. For many businesses, this could be something as seemingly simple as energy inefficiency.

According to BEIS’s SME Guide to Energy Efficiency, “almost a third of small firms highlight the cost of energy as a barrier to the growth and success of their business.” The guide goes on to state that “the average SME could reduce its energy bill by 18-25% by installing energy efficiency measures”.

Improving energy efficiency for a business isn’t just about improving energy consumption (although this is a good place to start). As a strategy for bottom line improvement, it goes beyond switching to LED lightbulbs and upgrading inefficient machinery., Solar PV provides a long-term financial saving by cutting a business’s spend on grid energy. Whilst the cost of grid energy is volatile and always rising, solar PV helps protect your business from erratic market fluctuations, providing the stability needed for sustainable growth

Ultimately solar is a very safe investment. No matter what’s going on in the world, the sun will always continue to shine.

 

Profitability and Power Purchase Agreements

Although purchasing and installing your own solar system will deliver a fantastic return on investment, this isn’t a possibility for every business. Any long-term financial savings are preceded by an immediate outlay, particularly in an uncertain economic climate.

However, businesses without immediately available capital can still benefit from solar through a Power Purchase Agreement. Under a PPA, the solar installer rents the customer’s roof space and uses it for solar. The client keeps their existing grid supply arrangement but purchases the solar energy through the installer. The efficiencies of onsite generation mean that solar energy can be sold cheaper Th than the going market rate, and therefore the client saves money, improving their bottom line without any upfront investment. At the end of the lease, ownership of the panels transfers to the customer and they receive 100% of the benefit at no additional cost.

While purchasing solar provides customers with a larger annual saving, PPAs have their own unique benefits.  Installing solar on your own premises can cause an increase in business rates, but under a PPA much of this increase can be mitigated, and it is the installer that is liable to pay it, the building owner is exempt. Additionally, under a PPA contract servicing and maintenance is included, so there are no unexpected bills, you simply pay less for the energy you use. Regular cleaning and servicing help ensure an array is performing at its peak, increasing its efficiency. Finally, as there is no initial investment you are not impacting your balance sheet, leaving your borrowing capacity available for core operational spend.

 

The bottom line

While this article unashamedly focuses on the financial benefits of solar, for many businesses this isn’t the driving motivation.

Regardless of whether a company chooses Capex or PPA solar, the overwhelming benefit is the ability to green your business. If the UK is to meet its demanding carbon reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, every company must do its bit.

Solar panels are a clear indicator of your business’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. With stakeholders such as customers and partners also becoming increasingly environmentally aware, embracing renewables could be what gives your company the cutting edge over its competition.

What happened to the green economic recovery?

plant growing from money representing green recovery concept

Since February 2020, the UK economy suffered a 25% collapse due to the coronavirus pandemic, with over a quarter of UK employees on furlough at the height of the crisis.

It became clear early on that the government would need to create a strategy for the UK to recover from the economic impact of coronavirus. Since then, many voices have called for this recovery to be a ‘green’ one.  Although fighting coronavirus is an immediate challenge, the long-term threat of climate change remains. If we require stimulated economic intervention anyway, why not combine it with a strategy to cut the country’s carbon emissions? After all, it is our cavalier attitude to waste, production, and consumerism that drive climate change.

This desire for a green recovery is not just buzzwords posed by thinktanks and environmental organisations, either. A report by the Climate Assembly UK, published in the Guardian, states that most people would continue with the lifestyle changes necessitated by coronavirus to tackle climate change.

In the run up to the government’s economic announcements, it seemed like the UK waited for news of its green recovery almost optimistically. However, Boris Johnston’s New Deal for Britain and Rishi Sunak’s summer economic statement left a lot to be desired. While both gave a nod to environmental initiatives, it certainly wasn’t the climate-centric approach we hoped for. Especially not when you consider the amount of effort (and investment) our European neighbours are deploying in the climate change fight.

 

What has the Government promised?

As part of his New Deal, Boris Johnston announced a £40 million investment for local conservation projects. As well as creating 3,000 environment jobs and safeguarding a further 2,000, this also includes a provision for tree planting. The Prime Minister promised plans to plant over 75,000 acres of trees a year by 2025.

In his summer statement, Rishi Sunak’s presented a strategy to improve energy efficiency in UK buildings. The Green Homes Grant provides £2bn for homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their home through insulation. As well as cutting household energy bills and improve living conditions, this would also cut carbon emissions. A further £1bn is earmarked for improving the energy efficiency of social housing and public sector buildings.

While both these initiatives are positive, it’s disappointing that these small nods are the full extent of the government’s green interventions. In fact, most of their plans for economic recovery focus on polluting and carbon-intensive activities that are not in line with the UK’s climate change targets.

 

The shortcomings

When you look at the rest of the UK’s plans for economic recovery, Sunak’s Green Homes Grant and Boris Johnson’s tree planting promise look like greenwashing: small environmental tokens designed to make the rest of the government’s plans appear palatable.

The message attached to the Prime Minister’s New Deal is “build, build, build”. The strategy promises funding for developing the UK’s roads, railways, town centres and highstreets, hospitals, and educational institutions. While green developments of such infrastructure are possible, it doesn’t seem like this is the government’s intention. Not only is infrastructure construction polluting and carbon-intensive, it further embeds us into high carbon systems. What we need is system reform.

Some environmental campaigners are even calling the government’s strategy “unlawful”. They claim that the proposed infrastructure development would be impossible while fulfilling the UK’s obligations to the Paris Agreement, which are legally binding.

While we wholly support an effort to make the UK’s homes more energy-efficient, implementing subsidies is not a perfect solution. Such schemes are short-term, acting as more of a sticking plaster. Our homes may be more energy-efficient, but unless we also see an attitude and education shift, many households will continue with the same carbon-intensive behaviour.

 

Could we learn from Germany’s green recovery plan?

Many environmental activists have decried the government’s economic plans, stating that it is categorically not a green recovery. Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, told the Financial Times that Riski Sunak’s announcements were “dwarfed by green recovery commitments in Germany and France”.

Germany, in particular, has pulled out all the stops with its truly green economic recovery plan. The German government has announced a €130bn stimulus package to kickstart its economy, featuring at least €40bn for climate initiatives.

Crucially, Germany’s plans incorporate decarbonising infrastructure reform. Germany’s €40bn climate fund includes at least €7bn for hydrogen infrastructure. Using existing gas pipelines, hydrogen is a clean fuelling option where electric vehicles are inappropriate (lorries, industrial vehicles, etc). The only by-product is clean water, but this solution is very energy intensive and requires a lot of renewable energy.

The German government also doubled the subsidy for purchasing electric vehicles to €6,000. Since Germany manufactures a lot of its own cars, this is a doubly smart move for stimulating its economy

 

A missed opportunity

The coronavirus pandemic has provided many people with an unusual opportunity to evaluate their habits. Early on, the crisis sparked an increased understanding of the severity of the climate change risk; 70% of Britons surveyed said they believed global warming is as serious as coronavirus.

This increased awareness and willingness to adapt provides a unique moment in the climate change fight. This could have been the tipping point for the long-term behavioural change required to fight climate change. And yet, the government’s recovery strategies risk squandering the opportunity.

Many climate and environmental experts have their own opinions on what’s missing from the government’s economic recovery. Personally, we find the lack of mention of offshore wind jarring. The UK is a world leader in this renewable energy form, and yet there are no plans to upgrade or expand the infrastructure. Additionally, it seems that no provision has been made for greater training and apprenticeships in the renewables space.

So far, the UK’s plans for economic recovery leave a lot to be desired. However, it’s possible that more initiative will be announced as the summer progresses. The government’s National Infrastructure Strategy is now 18 months overdue. Let’s hope that this plan for “core economic infrastructure, including energy networks, road and rail, flood defences and waste” has greening our country’s infrastructure at its heart.

What is the Doughnut Economy and how does it apply to climate change?

doughnuts on white background representing doughnut economy

In our Future Voices Q&A with Dr Nigel Hargreaves, we touched upon an interesting idea: the Doughnut Economy. Much of Nigel’s work as a systems architect is inspired by this new economic theory. We were intrigued by the concept, so we decided to investigate further. Here’s what we found out about the Doughnut Economy, how it applies to businesses, and where renewable energies like solar PV come in.

 

The Doughnut Economy, Explained

The concept of the Doughnut Economy was created by economist Kate Raworth in 2012.

Prior to the doughnut model, many of our existing economic theories (Keynesian, Monetarist, etc) were over 100 years old. Economic growth was measured only by an increasing GDP, ignoring the finite nature of earth’s resources and the consequences of our actions.

Raworth wanted to create an economic model fit for the 21st century. The central theme of the Doughnut Economy is balance: the theory postulates that a thriving human existence is only possible by considered use of available resources. Use too much, and we risk catastrophic effects that are harmful to human life. However, using earth’s resources unwisely can also lead to a shortfall, with humans existing in danger and hardship.

The ‘doughnut’ is the safe zone between these two extremes. It represents the ability to thrive economically, with the following social foundations being met for all people:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Health
  • Education
  • Income & work
  • Peace & justice
  • Political Voice
  • Social equity
  • Gender equality
  • Housing
  • Networks
  • Energy

This model is relevant to any group negotiating the balance between economic growth and powerful social change: governments, local authorities, NGOs, charities, and businesses. Its creator, Kate Raworth states that the theory “acts as a compass for human progress this century.” A 2018 study found that so far, over 150 nations have used the Doughnut Model. In fact, Amsterdam is embracing doughnut theory to plan its post-Covid economic recovery.

What happens if we overshoot on our resource budget?

Overshooting, or using too much of our available planetary resources, comes with drastic consequences:

  • Climate change
  • Ocean acidification
  • Chemical pollution
  • Nitrogen & phosphorus loading
  • Freshwater withdrawals
  • Land conversion
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Air pollution
  • Ozone layer depletion

For each of these consequences, the model provides a specific target based on the relevant planetary boundary. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) we are already overshooting on several planetary resources. For example, the model budgets 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. However, our current proportion of atmospheric C02 is 450 ppm and rising.

According to the doughnut model, we have used so much of our available resources that we are now in danger of significant global warming, biodiversity loss, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, and the consequences of land conversion (converting wild areas into economic ones, such as farms or roads).

 

What about an undershoot (AKA the hole in the doughnut)?

If we undershoot, or use our planetary resources incorrectly, we are unable to ensure the necessary social foundations are met across human life. In real terms, this means people living without access to plentiful food, clean water, and essential healthcare access.

Of course, this is already the way of life for billions of people worldwide. The interactive Doughnut Economy model reveals just how many people are already experiencing the ill-effects of an undershoot.

  • Eleven percent of the population is undernourished
  • Forty-six percent of countries have an infant mortality rate exceeding 25 per 1,000 live births, and 39% of countries have a life expectancy of less than 70 years
  • Fifteen percent of adults are illiterate, and 17% of children aged 12-15 are out of school
  • Twenty-nine percent of people live on less than $3.10 a day (the international poverty limit). A further 13% of young people are seeking but unable to find work.
  • A massive 85% of the population resides in countries judged ‘corrupt’ by the Corruption Perceptions Index. Thirteen percent of the population resides in countries with a high homicide rate: 10 or more per 10,000.
  • Fifty-two percent of the population resides in countries where they lack a political voice, according to the Voice and Accountability Index.
  • Thirty-nine percent of the population live in countries without social equity: a lack of justice and fair social policy.
  • There are 56% more men than women in national parliaments, and the worldwide earnings gap between men and women is 23%.
  • Twenty-four percent of the global urban population lives in slums.
  • Twenty-for percent of the population say they have no one to count on in times of trouble, and 57% of the population have no access to the internet.
  • Seventeen percent of the population lacks access to electricity, and 38% lack cooking facilities.
  • Finally, 9% of the population have no access to improved drinking water and 32% lack improved sanitation.

While these figures are startling, they are not the full extent of the problem. As we understand it, these figures don’t account for the individuals who are already suffering or displaced due to the effects of climate change, rising sea levels, deforestation, or other dangerous scenarios that sit on the outside of the doughnut.

 

The sweet spot

The doughnut-shaped space in the middle of the model is what we should strive for: a thriving global existence that avoids the catastrophic implications of overusing earth’s natural resources.

While the Doughnut Economy is most applicable on a macro level to economists and policy makers, businesses can also engage with the doughnut model on a micro scale. For certain organisations, such as organic food producers or companies building better lives for their international suppliers, their link to the doughnut is clear. However, there are ways for all businesses to engage with this framework.

Female-led business resource, The Big Whisper, has put together some questions that business leaders should ask themselves in order to apply the spirit of Doughnut Economics to their organisation:

  1. What core emotional and/or social need(s) are we helping others to meet through what we are offering?
  2. What are we doing to ensure no environmental harm with how we’re producing and selling our goods and services?
  3. What are we doing to ensure we are giving back to the ecosystem that we are taking part in?

When it comes to minimising the environmental harm created through business operations, embracing renewable energy is a simple and cost-effective option. A modest 50 kWp solar array (suitable for a small factory or similar) has the potential to save 13,500 kg of C02 every year. Even a small domestic array can save 1,200 kg of carbon a year. Without solar PV, that carbon would end up in the atmosphere, meeting planetary resource limits and contributing to global warming.

Embracing the Doughnut Economy requires work and change. However, coming to terms with environmental responsibility is a small price to pay for a thriving economy, population, and planet.

What do you think about the idea of the Doughnut Economy? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

 

A guide to SCATTER for local authorities

The path to net-zero may seem like a complex one. The target itself – reducing and offsetting all carbon emissions produced by a building or organisation – is almost overwhelming. Fortunately, there are several organisations and resources that can help. SCATTER is a free tool designed to help local authorities map and reduce their carbon footprint. Here’s everything local authorities need to know about SCATTER…

What is SCATTER?

SCATTER is an online tool for local authorities. It stands for:

Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction.

The SCATTER framework helps local authorities and city councils set targets in line with the Paris Agreement: to cap global warming at 1.5°C, global carbon emissions must balance at net zero by 2050.

SCATTER allows local authorities to calculate their carbon emissions. Once calculated, the tool helps authorities plot pathways and trajectories to different carbon scenarios through interventions. For example, it can help local authorities understand how much carbon would be saved through tree planting or managing livestock emissions.

Because SCATTER is a standardised framework, the results from different local authorities may be compared. This helps provide a detailed picture of emissions and pathways across the UK.

SCATTER was developed by the Antithesis Group in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Nottingham City Council and The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. The tool was originally piloted with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

The tool is free and simple to use; anyone with a .gov.uk email address can create an account.

 

How does SCATTER work?

The SCATTER tool has two main features: inventory and pathways.

The inventory feature allows local authorities to capture a detailed understanding of their carbon emissions by inputting certain details into the tool. According to SCATTER, “creating a greenhouse gas inventory for a local authority allows an organisation to identify the sources of their emissions and where to focus action.”

The inventory feature also serves another purpose. Recording emissions data in the SCATTER inventory allows local authorities to disclose these figures to important third-party organisations like CDP. By publicly disclosing environmental data, CDP helps keep thousands of countries, businesses, and organisations accountable for their environmental impact.

Once a local authority has assessed its carbon inventory, the pathways tool helps them develop a journey towards decarbonisation. It helps local authorities plot what their carbon footprint could look like up to 2050, depending on different levels of intervention. For example, what it would take for them to half their carbon footprint, or to achieve net zero. This can then help them set targets and plan a strategy.

The data from SCATTER can be exported in visual reports and resources, useful for educating and onboarding stakeholders.

 

Are there any limitations to SCATTER?

SCATTER cannot tell local authorities how much it would cost to implement any of the carbon-saving interventions in the pathways feature. As you might expect, there are too many variables for each local authority.

Despite its simplicity, SCATTER is not yet used by all local authorities across the UK. If more city councils and authorities used the framework, we would have a much clearer picture of the UK’s threat to climate change, and the action needed.

 

Why is recording and reporting carbon emissions so important in the fight against climate change?

According to the UK Green Building Council, there is often a discrepancy between the modelled and measured C02 savings from offset initiatives. This gap means that businesses, organisations, and even countries, may believe they’re operating much more greenly than they are. This is reiterated by CDP, who states “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.

Once a local authority has obtained a carbon emissions report from the inventory feature, there’s a lot they can do with this information. SCATTER says their data may be used alongside carbon budgeting reports created by the Tyndall Centre. These reports provide local authorities with a carbon ‘budget’ in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement. It also informs local authorities how quickly they will use up this allotted carbon if they continue without making interventions.

These projected overshoots make for frightening reading. Here’s what the report has to say about Norwich, a city that is overall pretty green:

“At 2017 CO2 emission levels, Norwich will exceed the recommended budget available within seven years from 2020. To stay within the recommended carbon budget Norwich will, from 2020 onwards, need to achieve average mitigation rates of CO2 from energy of around -12.7% per year.”

If we continue to overshoot our allotted carbon budget, the planet will keep getting warmer. It is already too late to stop global warming completely in its tracks. Summer 2020 has seen record temperatures of 38 degrees C in the Siberian Arctic. Scientists had not anticipated such a temperature rise until 2100, indicating that the planet is heating much faster than anticipated.

The Paris Agreement attempts to cap global warming at 1.5°C because a greater increase than this poses a very real threat to human existence. Utilising the SCATTER tool allows local authorities to gain a clearer understanding of their carbon footprint. Only when they know the scale and cause of the problem can they devise a suitable solution.